Thanks for Nothing

When the provincial budget (slogan: "Budget 2010: Striking the Right Balance") first came out on February 9, there was cautious optimism on campus because there was a 0% increase in operating grants for post-secondary education. This was not unexpected, and was a whole lot better than facing a cutback.

Sadly however, tucked away behind all the announcements, there was a cutback of 4.5%, or $20 million. That might not seem like a lot, but it's a staggering amount, coming on the heels of a $59 million shortfall (or "budget gap") due to reduced provincial grants, and the recent tanking of global economic markets, among other things. (But hey, it's not all bad news for everybody in education--Alberta teachers are getting a 5.99% raise! Retroactive to September 1, 2009! Of course, it's up to the school boards to find that money.)

Here's the problem: there's not a lot of room to cut. Moving the UofA's email system to Gmail will save only about $1 million. Big whoop. How else can the gap be closed? Raising tuition as much as provincial law allows? Check. Introducing crazy new "fees" (*cough* CoSSS *cough*)? Check. Asking the staff association (AASUA) to take "furlough" days off without pay? Check-a-roonie. Let's just take a look at the latter one.

Academic staff will have the following days off: December 24, and December 29 to 30, 2010; as well as January 4 and 5, 2011. (In addition, there are holidays like December 25 and 26, which are observed on Monday, December 27 and Tuesday the 28th because the holidays fall on a weekend; the same goes for January 1 which is observed on Monday, January 3, 2011.) I now realize that I'm not paid for working on weekends! Wow! So don't expect me to answer any emails on the weekend. Also, I won't be answering emails on my furlough days. Mark your calendars! I shouldn't be doing any prep work for the upcoming semester, working on lectures, reading papers, that sort of thing. Of course, going back to work on Thursday, January 6th is going to be a helluva bitch.

So, where else can we cut? How about getting rid of some of the "fat cats" mentioned in some of the asinine comments following this story in the Edmonton Journal? Hmm, I don't see many people wearing three-piece suits puffing on cigars. Hey, maybe they mean tenured faculty? Ooops--nope, you can't just give a full Professor a pink slip. But the story in the paper talks about layoffs. Who could they going to lay off...? Who could they chop...?

Contract staff like me.

I'm not going to be sleeping too well unless/until my contract is renewed at the end of the summer. Sure, the classes I teach are full, with even more students wanting to get in. Sure, my teaching performance has won me awards. But how much does that count when it comes to the cold, hard numbers and cold, hard cash? In fact, my years of experience and awards may work against me: I'm more expensive than, say, a graduate student or someone with a shiny new Ph.D. So I might be getting a whole lot more "days off" than just six furlough days.

As students, you can expect higher tuition/fees (duh), almost certainly larger classes, and those classes may be taught by some really grumpy professors who've had their arms twisted to get them out of the lab and back into the classroom. (This happened before, in the 1990s as a consequence of the Ralph Klein cuts--there was a massive layoff of sessionals, class sizes grew, and some bitter close-to-retirement profs were forced back into the classroom.)

So thanks, Ed. Thanks for nothing.

Hope I'll see you next year...

Why aren't you studying?

Anatomy of a Lecture: Part 1

I regularly review the lectures in each course I teach. I ask myself, Am I presenting the current state of research and theory? Is it interesting and relevant? Is there something else I could (or should) be talking about?

Sometimes, I look at a lecture and decide that it's past its prime--either I have to revamp it completely or get rid of it. Either option is hard. It's not fun to completely redo a lecture; I've got to immerse myself in the current theories and read a whole bunch of research papers. On the other hand, because I've spent a lot of time developing a lecture, it's hard to retire it (it's one of my babies!).

Last year, I realized that my Advanced Perception lecture on motion perception was not keeping up with the times. (For example, I presented a theory that--although interesting--has been largely abandoned.) Worse, a lot of the lecture repeated the same information from my lower-level Perception course, making it repetitive and potentially even boring. But trying to get up to speed on the complex area of motion perception was daunting. So, out it went.

My motion perception lecture was followed by an extended look at the (controversial) ecological approach to perception. Why did I spend so much time on this one theory? No other theory got such privileged treatment, and I briefly talked about the ecological approach earlier in the course alongside the other major theories. Then I remembered that I originally developed the lecture to complement a chapter on the ecological approach in the assigned textbook for the course. Which I was no longer using. Oops. So, out it went.

This left me with a large hole in the middle of term that I would have to fill with a new lecture. Actually, I wanted to make room in the course so that I could talk about the strange phenomenon known as "synesthesia." Now I had room--lots and lots of room. Just really quite a large bit of room: 3 hours of lecture.

So I was faced with a new problem: Would there be enough known about synesthesia to fill out a whole lecture--and fill all that time? The answer: Yes. Oh, yes, indeed--as you'll see in part 2...

Why aren't you studying?

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